Puneet Sood, Head — Apparel Business, Royal Enfield, talks us through the brand's partnership with leading protective apparel and body armour experts Knox Armour
Royal Enfield has joined hands with Knox to produce riding gear of European standards, the new lineup of gear launched includes nine CE certified gloves, some of which have Knox armour, three new jackets equipped with Knox armour and knee guards that are CE Level 2 certified. This current partnership focuses on providing the customer what they need, at an affordable price range like former collaborations with Rev'it and Levi's but without compromise in quality and safety by meeting CE certifications. They plan to become the go to brand for consumers stepping into the motorcycling world for apparel and riding gear, not only Royal Enfield riders but the entire biking community. We talk to Puneet Sood, Head of Apparel Business for Royal Enfield to ask how it came to be and the brand's future plans in this segment.
evo India: Talk us through the journey of Royal Enfield's apparel business
Puneet Sood: "I think our vision essentially as Royal Enfield is that we are not just about selling motorcycles, we are about the motorcycling way of life which means that it's about the machine, but it's also as much about the terrain, about the man who's riding it, and what we've tried to do about our other businesses is to create an ecosystem around it.
Apparel essentially means anything that goes on the rider. The two pillars that we've tried to work on are — how do we help our riders explore better, which is were most of our riding gear and protective gear comes in. And there are multiple elements that we have worked on, like making the riding gear more comfortable, making sure that it's safe, and we also want to keep it stylish. The other bit we have realised is that there's a huge set of audience which has an affinity towards the motorcycling way of life and they have this need to express their love for motorcycling. This is where our lifestyle range comes in. The objective is to enable anybody in love with motorcycling to express that. Our priority is on how to be a better ally to the rider which is why we've focused on bringing in products that work for the riders.
If you speak of India specifically, I still believe that till very recently a lot of riding gear that came in, was either very credible but not accessible in terms of pricing or easily available. Alternatively you'd get stuff that is cheaper but not as credible and that is where the dilemma for an Indian consumer was. The other challenge also was that if the buyer decided to go for the credible products they want it really made for the Indian terrain, for the Indian weather and this is what we kept hearing from our community. Which is when we started our work on building a whole comprehensive range of riding gear, to make alternatives that could work for the Indian weather and alternatives that have global credibility.
This was a long process for us, we've been on it for almost two years now even with the first range of riding jackets that we launched last year. We've worked closely with a lot of riders, a lot of community and continuously taken feedback from them and had our share of learning. For example, in the beginning of last year we launched a women's range of riding gear, from the feedback that this is an underserved market for women riders. We got into collaborations, we understood the riders need to express themselves which is why wanted to do something like MIY (Make It Yours). But our thought has been, staying true to the pillars of comfort, safety and style. At times offering the best product has meant that we've worked with partners and we've worked hard on building a strong set of vendor base, but at the same time we've always been open to work with other brands other partners who could help us build something which has a lot of relevance for our riders, so that's where we've gotten into collaboration with other brands in the past and probably will stay on the lookout in the future also."
evo India: We want to talk about Royal Enfield's series of collaborations, what did you start with?
PS: "We've had collaborations since a very long time, about four or five years back was our first collaboration with Rev'it where we launched a riding jacket and riding trousers. That was just the beginning. Since about two and a half years now we've got a very clear vision on what offerings for our riders should be. We want to make sure it's accessible on price and availability. We've researched what we can bring to the table where we believe we have expertise or vendors. We believe that the partners are very strong in terms of R&D and the innovation that they bring in. Our first collaboration in the recent past was with Levi's, which is when two iconic brands came together. That had a lot working for us, as a lot of our riders were opting for Levi's denims when they were riding. What we wanted to do was build more relevance, which is why we were very happy to get into that collaboration. Two brands both have legacy, have a lot of shared values and then we got into building a range which we believed would work for a rider, off the saddle and on the saddle. Levi's was our first really large collaboration."
evo India: In terms of designing the Levi's line, was it a joint effort or only Levi's, how did it work?
PS: "The interesting bit in collaborating with these brands is that they have their own understanding, they bring their own expertise to the table and we bring ours. We had multiple conversations where we were giving inputs from a rider's point of view, our learnings from our community, from people who've tried various riding trousers, what works for them in terms of what's comfortable when they are riding. Those inputs came from us, because of our strong understanding of motorcycling. They contributed with their understanding of the materials that are used, how we could bring it to life. It was a joint effort and one where our complementary strengths helped us launch a better product."
evo India: Is the Levi's collaboration still on sale?
PS: "We did our first launch last year, which is available in the market right now. For the moment we don't have any confirmed news, but yes we would want to continue collaborating wherever we can and bring products to the consumer which hold value."
evo India: How did the Knox partnership come about?
PS: "We started working with Knox when we were looking at launching our riding jackets, they have a lot of credibility in terms of internal armour not just in India but globally. There is enough investment that they've made in R&D, their understanding of design and we believe they got a right partner, so when we off our work with the riding jackets, five out of the total riding jackets had Knox armours. So we've worked with them on that and while we were working we also realised that they had a lot of design capability and this is a partnership that could work. This is what led to us getting into a deeper engagement and looking at designing new products in partnership with them, with us bringing a strong understanding of the Indian terrain, what will work for an Indian consumer and their understanding of technology, the products and materials that would bring value. That is where it kind of evolved, our partnership of riding jackets worked very well and now we've expanded it to our other range of products like our riding trousers gloves and the external armour that we've launched. It's worked very well for us because there are complementary strengths that both of us bring to the table and eventually as we keep the consumer in the centre, I think it works well."
evo India: Is this partnership with Knox a global one? Or just for India?
PS: "Knox is a global partnership, a lot of Knox products we've launched are certified globally. We are a global organization and our focus is not on just the riders in India, we want to make an impact globally. All the riding gear, the gloves, jackets, external armour all are CE certified which is a global standard the European standard of safety and will be available across countries by Royal Enfield."
evo India: Does selling your apparel help in pushing your motorcycles?
PS: "For us step one is, can we introduce more and more people to the motorcycling way of life. I'm sure a lot of our consumers who haven't started riding yet are opting for our apparel so they are experience the ‘motorcycling way of life’. A lot of our consumers we also know buy apparel before they buy motorcycles, this is their entry to motorcycling and then they decide to engage more. So we see apparel as an entry to the motorcycling way of life and we believe we've been able to do that with our lifestyle range of products."
evo India: Can you tell us about the MIY program, what was the thought behind it and how it came to be and how easy or difficult is it to execute?
PS: "We launched MIY in 2018 when we just had one style of helmet, we noticed a lot of our riders used their motorcycle as a canvas to express themselves, they modified it, they customized it, personalized it and the thought was can this be brought to life on riding gear and lifestyle apparel as well. Once we realised that the whole customisation as well as the personalization was something that was important to the community, we invested a lot our time and energy.
In our case MIY that we make isn't a touchup. It's not like we have a helmet and we just put a sticker on it. All the orders that come to us are made from scratch at the factory which is what allows us to then offer a lot of multiple options within the helmet to the consumers. This meant that there needed to be a very strong alignment with our vendors, we needed to build a backend, a process where these helmets could be made one at a time, also in terms of logistics and how do you ensure that these specific helmets were then delivered to the consumers who had ordered them. So there was a lot of learning that came in here, a lot of time invested in ensuring that it's a backend we were able to build in this capability, but we're quite happy that the current range that we've launched which is a t-shirt and helmets is doing well. I believe this is just the beginning so this year you will see a lot of new products getting added to our MIY range."
evo India: What's the next step for your MIY division?
PS: "We're looking at multiple categories where we believe a consumer would want to design and customized their own product. One that we are looking at next is riding jackets, which is an area where we believe that you want to give the rider an option to look at specifically what they want. But there are multiple other categories we're working on. As soon as we are able to come close to launching them we will share those with you."
evo India: In terms of people who buy your riding gear specifically, are they mostly Royal Enfield owners, or do you find people owning other motorcycles also buying your gear?
PS: "In all honesty we don't have numbers , because we have a multi-channel approach so I don't know how many of our riders buy it and how many other motorcycle riders buy it, but from our intent point of view very clearly we are not targeting Royal Enfield consumers only. We are trying to build a product that appeals to a rider, and they may choose any motorcycle. So our approach has been to build a product for the community which is why we've gotten into these product collaborations with Knox, Levi's and even with D3O for the range of riding gear. Our clear objective is to look at offering a product which should work for any rider."
evo India: What is the sales and revenue split between technical riding gear and leisure wear?
PS: "The technical riding gear in terms of value is a higher contributor, it contributes to more than fifty per cent of our revenue, most of the times it touches almost seventy per cent of our revenue which is also because all of these are high ASP products. In terms of volume, lifestyle is what is driving volumes for us so in that way there is a decent mix, our value is driven by riding gear, while our volumes are driven by our lifestyle apparel and accessories which is in line with how we would want it to fall so. The lifestyle products at a lower price point give access to a much larger consumer base, whereas the riding gear at different price points essentially improves the riding experience for the riders."
evo India: What is the difference in terms of perception in the market for the technical riding gear and leisure wear lines?
PS: "What we tend to do with both these categories is different, in terms of our riding gear what we are trying to build on is we want them to be safe and we believe the products that Royal Enfield offers them are their ally for longer rides, which is why in the whole range of products we've focused on ensuring that we don't compromise on safety anywhere, while there is also a lot of focus on keeping the price point very accessible, we've worked with partners like Knox to ensure that and even in terms of the raw material that goes in, we wanted to ensure it gives comfort to the rider that they are wearing a product that is safe which is why we've gotten into products which meet the global standards of safety. Our riding jackets, gloves etc a lot of them are CE approved. In terms of lifestyle apparel our approach for riding gear is similar, the lifestyle apparel isn't about shouting about Royal Enfield, it is about letting people express their love for Royal Enfield, they might choose to do that but it is about people being able to express their love for motorcycling and on most of our designs that is what we've focused on, so to be an ally for the community."
evo India: How big is your apparel team and who all design your gear and merchandise?
PS: " All designing and thought process on the product happens internally and almost half of what the product team does is engage with our community, any product that we launch have inputs from our community. We look at it in two parts. One is before we launch a product, we stay in touch with the community, understand what they need. This happens with the sample set of our community even before we launch the riding jacket. We ask some consumers to use it, get their feedback so we can make changes if needed at the time of launch. Post the time of launch is when our whole process of getting feedback starts from a larger consumer base and understanding that is how we've built a version 2.0 of the same product. If you look at our products like Street Wind V1.0 which was our first jacket below Rs 5000, we've heard what the consumers were saying that it feels a little heavy, the mesh needs to be a little softer, etc. and then we launched the version 2.0. So for us what we continuously keep doing is once we have a comprehensive range we will keep building on that range and keep improving it and launching upgraded versions of them. Even if it's a knee guard, a lot of Indian consumers don't prefer buying riding trousers at the same time what our community has told us is, it's difficult to wear a riding trouser, it isn't as comfortable to wear in the Indian weather, we can't alter them and how do you ensure the protection is where it needs to be. We wanted to offer a solution which was credible, comfortable and safe and that is why we've launched the one piece knee armour. We've invested a lot of time to make sure it is tested for impact absorption and ergonomics, that's what we've worked on."
evo India: You've talked about people testing gears, do you tap into the Royal Enfield community for testers?
PS: "Yes we've worked with our community and we go to them and work with them on product improvement before we launch a product. In all honesty, I would say even in the process of product development the insight comes from the community and at the same time even the process of product development happens along with the community. We're lucky enough to have a community that loves us and shares inputs with us, we have a decently large riding team who do multiple rides with the product and we are able to get these inputs. Of course there is a parallel line of lab testing ensuring that product meets standards which is also carried out, in terms of product development our community plays an equal and important role."
evo India: How many countries do you sell in at the moment?
PS: "Right now Royal Enfield as a brand we're present in more than sixty countries and our apparel is also sold in all the countries where motorcycles are sold, like I said the apparel is an integral part of the brand itself with the intent of us creating that aura or ecosystem around motorcycling."
Royal Enfield plans to continue growing in the apparel and riding gear business, their constant effort is to offer a comprehensive and accessible range of apparel and riding gear to the riders with focus on safety, comfort and style. The Knox partnership now offers the brand more credibility and opens doors to a more revenue income as the products co-created are globally certified and not just made for India. The Royal Enfield riding gear continues to be an entry point for Indian riders who are new to motorcycling, now with international safety specs.